Last week, not quite two months after the team was officially announced there — and nearly five since we broke the news they were coming in the first place — FC Cincinnati were back at UC’s Nippert Stadium with all the city’s soccer eyes focused on them once again.
The reason for the occasion? The club’s first fan open house and the unveiling of their first major sponsors.
Seeing as how it’s been a week since the event and numerous other outlets have already reported on the specifics of those sponsorships, I’ll just summarize them by offering some talking points below:
- An unsurprising pick given FCC’s association with the University of Cincinnati, the club’s first presenting sponsor will be UC Health. Does this mean that every time we hear the club’s name read aloud, it will be read as “FC Cincinnati presented by UC Health”? Maybe during match broadcasts, but I’d also expect this will be a major portion of their advertising around town and signage at the stadium next spring.
- Up next was the FC Cincinnati’s youth sponsor: United Dairy Farmers. That’s another not-at-all-surprising selection considering UDF was founded by the grandfather of the club’s primary owner, Carl Linder III. Whether this amounts to anything more than the handing out of free ice cream to kids at games, that remains to be seen.
- One of the more intriguing announcements involved their proposed student supporter section, where college students can nab season tickets for $50. FC Cincinnati announced the supporter section will be named “The Legion” — after sponsor Legion Logistics. You read that right: a corporately-named supporters’ section. While we have seen corporate section naming in other pro-sports stadiums in this country, this will (and already has) gone over like a car crash with soccer supporters.
- And last came the club’s first jersey sponsor, which will be Toyota. Perhaps a relationship spawned in part by minority owner George Joseph and his Joseph Auto Group’s close association with the auto manufacturer, Toyota’s investment in soccer in the US has been huge. In addition to this jersey sponsorship, the Japanese company owns the stadium naming rights for two Major League Soccer’s teams in the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas, as well as the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. This represents a huge land in my opinion, even if the red of their logo clashes a bit with FCC’s orange and blue.
The club expects to announce further corporate partners in the months to come, but all told, the four above represent an excellent start. All four companies are either based in, or have substantial business in, the greater Cincinnati area. Though I did find it interesting that none of the four companies have yet made any mention of their partnerships with the fledgling USL franchise on their own websites.
President Jeff Berding and company also used the night as an opportunity to sell the invited season ticket depositors on the luxurious seating options available in the newly renovated Nippert Stadium. Upwards of 400-500 fans showed for the event, and representatives bounced around showing them the surprisingly affordable club seating options before a fan Q&A session was held with Berding and Coach John Harkes.
But all of that is stuff you already know. How about some things that were not announced publicly?
I had a chance to speak with FCC marketing and communications director Gary De Jesus about some of the further renovations to Nippert Stadium to make it more accommodating to soccer.
At the club’s opening presser in August, it was mentioned that the 2016 season would be played on UC’s current turf and that the gridiron football lines would be painted over — but that will not be the case after all. Many, myself included, had been concerned of the visual aesthetics that a UC football field would provide for professional soccer.
But De Jesus informed me that the current field surface at Nippert will be removed and replaced with a “unique solution” that will offer “a blank canvas” ahead of the team’s inaugural season.
The end result? “No football lines.”
De Jesus explained an innovative modular turf system will be installed at Nippert that will allow FC Cincinnati and UC to “swap out each end zone and around the halfway line” so that each can have their own look. The two permanent strips in between those modular areas will be painted with specific lines for each game with a special paint that should wash off more easily than conventional paints.
I inquired if actual grass had been investigated — he confirmed it had — the configuration of UC’s stadium makes that a non-workable option. “Nippert is rare in that it’s a publicly available space on campus,” De Jesus added, “so students can and often do use the surface for extracurricular activities.” Adding grass would mean they would have to close off access to the field, something UC found non-negotiable.
The club’s communications director also mentioned that the playing surface the new modular pitch will offer will be a compact 110 yards long by 70 yards wide — the same “reported” size of New York City FC’s micro-pitch at Yankee Stadium. But that was just for 2016.
In 2017, Nippert’s newly renovated Western stand will have “the first three rows removed” to accommodate a wider playing surface. “That will get us to 75 yards wide. And as you know, that means we can host international friendlies,” said De Jesus. When asked if the potential for international friendlies had anything to do with Premier League head honcho Richard Scudamore’s appearance in Cincinnati this summer, De Jesus mentioned he didn’t have any direct involvement with that — but was coy about whether the club’s ownership had anything to do with that.
Speaking of the smaller playing surface, I also wanted to get coach John Harkes take on that.
Specifically, I asked Harkes whether the size of the field would have any impact on the type of player he was recruiting. “It’s definitely a smaller field,” Harkes said, “But the type of player we hope to bring to Cincinnati should be able to play on any surface, big or small.”
When asked where he was hoping to find those players, Harkes was a bit more direct. He spoke of how they’re currently evaluating players at all three tiers of the professional game here in the States — MLS, NASL and USL. The coach also mentioned that he was “leaving for England… and then on to Spain” the day after the press conference to look at some international options. “We’re casting a wide net,” he added.
As for when the first player signings could be expected, both Harkes and De Jesus mentioned that they needed to wait until the domestic seasons had closed out. “November at the earliest,” was the best I was able to get out of anyone.
That may seem like a while, but the time frame they’ll be working on is a tight one.
With the club’s first training camp due to be held in Cincinnati in January — just three months away — FC Cincinnati know things will begin moving along here very quickly.
UPDATE ON 10/15/2015: I forgot to include some information on the newly announced jersey which is now available for pre-order.
Ignoring the staggering $100 price tag — which is admittedly hard to do — one of the biggest confusion points of the press conference would be which one is actually the official jersey? If you hadn’t noticed, the two jerseys held up at the event were actually different: one had orange on top and blue on the bottom, while the other one was the reverse (see this picture I posted to Twitter).
I’ve been told that the blue on top/orange on bottom jersey is the official one, and will serve as the club’s primary jersey. An odd choice, given how the outer portions of the club’s logo are also blue, helping it to fade into the background on the shirt.
That said, what about the aways? I’ve also been told that the club’s alternate kit will be primarily white, with an orange stripe across the chest.